My lungs burned and the springy feeling in my legs turned to lead as I pushed up the winding, rock- and root-strewn hill toward Wright’s Tower on a chilly but humid Saturday morning at the Middlesex Fells Reservation. Upon reaching the top, I trotted past the tower to the outcropping of rocks that serve as a lookout point toward the skyline of downtown Boston seven miles away.
I run the trails here often, and this is a regular stopping point to catch my breath, clear my head, or sit and think for a little while before heading on my way for more miles in the woods.
I gazed toward the city and saw clouds rolling through quickly. They would clear soon, the forecast said; it was supposed to be a beautiful day in Boston. I knew the city would be buzzing with energy soon. The Boston Women’s March for America – a sister event to the Women’s March on Washington in the nation’s capital – was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. I knew a few friends who would be marching in Washington, D.C., and others who planned to be at Boston Common.
Many people would march in support of women’s rights, and some for a variety of other reasons a day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.
As I stood there looking toward the city, I thought about my sister who is living overseas with her family right now. I thought about the sheer revulsion she expressed about Trump’s language about women. He called them “pigs.” If they were smart and strong-willed, he called them “nasty.” How – at 59 years old… not some braggadocious college kid … as a 59-year-old – he bragged about how he would walk up to women and begin sexually assaulting them at will.
He bragged about performing criminal acts and getting away with it, and sounded mighty proud of himself while doing so. It was disgusting and dehumanizing. Yet this was the person so many wanted to be the new face of America; the man young boys would grow up seeing as the leader of the supposedly free world; a man that America’s sons should strive to emulate and its daughters were to respect?
I thought about my sister, and I knew she expected better of our country – for her and for her children. I was damn sure that if she were in town she would be headed to the march.
I should be there for her, I thought.
I had more miles to cover that morning, so I took off back down the trail. Most of my runs at the Fells are with my girlfriend. I was running solo on this day, but my thoughts turned to her. She’s the stronger runner of the two of us. She’s the faster runner, and she works a heck of a lot harder at it than I do. Actually, she works harder than most people at everything she does. I don’t know exactly what her salary is, and I have no idea what her co-workers make, but I’d like to believe she’s rewarded for her effort by making at least as much as men performing similar responsibilities. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it still isn’t in many professions in this country despite progress in recent years. No matter where her career takes her, she deserves to be compensated for the quality of work that she does without gender being factored into the equation. All women deserve that respect.
I should stand for her, I thought.
Working my way up and down hills, weaving through the trees and hopping over rocks, my mind stayed on the march. I thought about my mother who, at almost 73 years old, has suffered from dementia for about seven years. Her memory continues to fade, and recent events usually don’t stick with her for more than a few minutes. Even so, she recoils at the mere mention of the new president’s name. Most memories are fleeting, but his vile, slimy descriptions of women and the assaults he seemed so proud of – those stuck.
As a conservative Catholic, Kansan, elementary school teacher, and Republican who was raised by small business-owning, conservative Catholic parents who were longtime Republican donors and whose home had signed photos of presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush hanging on the wall, my mom was much like her parents. She worked hard and kept quiet, yet she was guided by core principles of right and wrong and refused to make excuses to vary from those principles.
Those principles included a strong moral compass that my grandparents passed along to my mother, and that my mom instilled in my sister and me. As a result of the dementia, mom can’t advocate for herself like she once could.
I should advocate for her, I thought.
I continued running, and as the miles ticked by my thoughts shifted to my niece, Georgia. At just 3 years old, she’s fortunate that her world revolves around Play-Doh, Peppa Pig, and following around her older brothers. She hasn’t heard all of the disgusting things the new president has said about women, and she is too young to know that women her mother’s age and her grandmother’s age have accused the new president of sexual assault.
But someday she will.
It may be 10 or 15 years before she really understands what’s happening right now, in much the same way that I was aware of the Cold War during the 80s but didn’t really grasp what it was all about until I was older. But at some point, sometime down the road, she will understand what was said, what was done, what values our nation was willing to set aside and what behaviors our country decided to excuse and condone.
The decisions and actions of today will shape the world she lives in when she’s older. Will she be safer because of those decisions and actions? Will she be healthier? More free?
Or will she be targeted for her appearance? Will she have fewer opportunities than her brothers? Will she be paid less for doing equal work as her male counterparts?
Will her life be better or worse thanks to the actions of today?
What will she think?
I want her to know that I stood up for her mother; her grandmother; her great-grandmother; her friends. I want her to know that I stood up for HER with hope that the world she grows up in will be better than it is today.
Will she be proud of me?
I hope so.
I’ve been blessed to grow up as a middle-class white guy with a stable, close-knit family in a safe neighborhood with excellent schools. I’ve been fortunate to travel the globe and gain an appreciation for other countries and cultures. I’ve had a pretty fantastic life thanks to the family I have, the place where I grew up, and the opportunities that have come with it.
I’m blessed beyond belief, but I’m honest with myself about the fact that many others weren’t born with the same opportunities and privileges that I was. I don’t pretend to have any idea what it would have been like to grow up as a minority in this country, and I don’t pretend they’ve had the same experience as me. In that same breath, I don’t pretend to speak for women or claim to understand the obstacles they face as a result of their gender. But I don’t ignore or attempt to delegitimize their experiences, either.
When presented with facts, I don’t let myself be deceived because of my privileged background or out of blind loyalty to a heartless political party. Their American experience is different from mine, but equally valid and worthy of my respect and recognition. And when presented with the opportunity to make a change that will bring more equality to others, or to at least raise my voice in support of equality, I’d be violating my core principles not to.
That’s why I altered my route, cut my run short and headed into Boston on Saturday to march. It’s one small step – and I was just a small speck in a crowd estimated at around 175,000 – but it sure beats staying silent. And sometime down the road – whether it’s when history is judging or my niece asking – I’ll have peace of mind.